Posts filed under ‘Commentary’
I’m happy to add our support to this open letter, and urge you to add your support at http://www.myplatemyplanet.org
Food for a Sustainable Nation: An Open Letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
- “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet…”
- “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use…”
- “Linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security.”
As Americans, we rely on our government to provide accurate, science-based information, that promotes the health of our families and our environment.
The state of the union food-wise is not good, says our favorite New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. No kidding. That’s why it’s long past time for a National Food Policy.
After all, 15% of Americans (that’s 46.5 million people) are subsisting on SNAP benefits (food stamps). And you can bet that most of them are not getting enough fresh, healthy food with their food stamps, and that many suffer from, or are at fisk of, costly diseases that can be caused by poor nutrition: obesity, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Come to think of it, Bittman says, many of our domestic challenges are connected one way or the other with food.
“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture,” he says. “You can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)”
Here are Bittman’s top policy recommendations:
- Get antibiotics out of our food supply.
- Tie reducing greenhouse gas emissions to reining in the industrial production of animals for meat.
- Support strong front-of-package food labeling.
- Defend the menu labeling mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
We like his list and have a few more suggestions:
- Increase financial support for farmers, businesses and organizations that produce and distribute fresh, healthy, local food.
- Decrease subsidies and incentives to farmers, businesses and organizations that produce, advertise, and distribute unhealthy food, especially to children.
- Increase the minimum wage of food workers for farms, food processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
It’s a start. To read the rest of Bittman’s thoughtful comments on national food policy, click here. Feel free to share your recommendations.
By Richard Heinberg
[Editor’s Note: Worcester (MA) Polytechnic Institute invited Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, to give the 2011 commencement speech. Students wanted another perspective so they invited peak-oil expert Richard Heinberg, who was permitted to speak following the main ceremony. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks, reprinted from the full text in Yes Magazine.]
Whatever field you go into—business, finance, engineering, transportation, agriculture, education, or entertainment—your experience will be shaped by the energy transition that is now under way. The better you understand this, the more effectively you will be able to contribute to society and make your way in the world.
We are at one of history’s great turning points. During your lifetime you will see world changes more significant in scope than human beings have ever witnessed before. You will have the opportunity to participate in the redesign of the basic systems that support our society—our energy system, food system, transport system, and financial system.
I say this with some confidence, because our existing energy, food, transport, and financial systems can’t be maintained under the circumstances that are developing—circumstances of fossil fuel depletion and an unstable climate. As a result, what you choose to do in life could have far greater implications than you may currently realize.
Over the course of your lifetime society will need to solve some basic problems:
- How to grow food sustainably without fossil fuel inputs and without eroding topsoil or drawing down increasingly scarce supplies of fresh water;
- How to support 7 billion people without depleting natural resources—including forests and fish, as well as finite stocks of minerals and metals; and
- How to reorganize our financial system so that it can continue to perform its essential functions—reinvesting savings into socially beneficial projects—in the context of an economy that is stable or maybe even shrinking due to declining energy supplies, rather than continually growing.
Each of these core problems will take time, intelligence, and courage to solve. This is a challenge suitable for heroes and heroines, one that’s big enough to keep even the greatest generation in history fully occupied. If every crisis is an opportunity, then this is the biggest opportunity humanity has ever seen.
Making the best of the circumstances that life sends our way is perhaps the most important attitude and skill that we can hope to develop. The circumstance that life is currently serving up is one of fundamentally changed economic conditions. As this decade and this century wear on, we Americans will have fewer material goods and we will be less mobile. In a few years we will look back on late 20th century America as time and place of advertising-stoked consumption that was completely out of proportion to what Nature can sustainably provide. I suspect we will think of those times—with a combination of longing and regret—as a lost golden age of abundance, but also a time of foolishness and greed that put the entire world at risk.
Making the best of our new circumstances will mean finding happiness in designing higher-quality products that can be re-used, repaired, and recycled almost endlessly; and finding fulfillment in human relationships and cultural activities rather than mindless shopping.
Fortunately, we know from recent cross-cultural psychological studies that there is little correlation between levels of consumption and happiness. That tells us that life can in fact be better without fossil fuels.
So whether we view these as hard times or as times of great possibility is really a matter of perspective. I would emphasize the latter. This is a time of unprecedented opportunity for service to one’s community. It’s a time when it will be possible to truly change the world, because the world has to change anyway. It is a time when you can make a difference by helping to shape this needed and inevitable change.
As I travel, I meet young people in every part of this country who are taking up the challenge of building a post-petroleum future: a 25-year-old farmer in New Jersey who plows with horses and uses no chemicals; the operator of a biodiesel co-op in Northampton; a solar installer in Oakland, California. The energy transition will require new thinking in every field you can imagine, from fine arts to banking. Companies everywhere are hiring sustainability officers to help guide them through the challenges and opportunities. At the same time, many young people are joining energy and climate activist organizations like 350.org and Transition Initiatives.
So here is my message to you in a nutshell: Fossil fuels made it possible to build the world you have inhabited during your childhood and throughout your years in the education system. Now it’s up to you to imagine and build the world after fossil fuels. This is the challenge and opportunity of your lifetimes. I wish you good cheer and good luck as you make the most of it.
–Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality.
By Dee Reid
I woke to a vaguely familiar white noise. Not unlike the monotonous hum of high-speed rush-hour traffic. Or what it might sound like if all of the neighbors fired up their leaf blowers at the same time. But this was Saturday; rush hour was long gone. We live in the woods on the edge of a small town. And few of our neighbors wield leaf blowers.
I opened the back door and recoiled at the racket: Who had the nerve to disturb the peace of our rural paradise? Could you guys turn down the volume, please?
Then I remembered: It was time for the 13-year cicadas to return. Magicicadas, Brood XIX to be precise.
Actually they have been here all along and they mean us no harm. Their crazed parents mated in 1998, amidst a cacophony that we at first thought meant bull dozers were heading down our driveway. Their eggs were deposited, and the little ones have been incubating inconspicuously as “nymphs” ever since.
Brood XIX apparently got the memo over the week-end that it was time to claw out of their holes, bust free of their shells, find their own mates, and, well, get it on — all part of the mysterious cycle of their mysterious existence. In their case: Have babies, then die.
Puzzle solved, we got on with our day, noting the skeletal casings of insect-shaped “cocoons” everywhere — deck, patio, porches, yard, driveway, garden. Check. They even crawled through the clay surface of a backyard tennis court in town.
We marveled at the decibels. I heard them in the morning while biking to the market in Pittsboro. I could still hear them back at our place after lunch even while Brian was mowing the pasture.
Soon the hum of their mating call faded into the background of our rural routine. We forgot they were there, just as we had while they hibernated politely underground for more than a decade.
After a family dinner our eldest granddaughter — Ryan, 5 — suggested a game of outdoor hide-and-seek. She and I would find a perfect hiding place and wait to be discovered.
Ryan and I raced to the giant beech tree about 50 feet from the patio. Just as we were ready to tuck our bodies against the tree’s far side, we noticed the bark seemed to be moving. Oh dear. Hundreds of cicadas were dragging their crispy tan shells up the tree. Holy locusts. They were evacuating a hole at the base of the trunk, teeming out like a rowdy arena crowd following a soccer match. (Indeed this crowd was almost as noisy as the South African fans at the World Cup last summer, and they’re just getting cranked up.)
We looked up. Shadows on every single leaf revealed twitchy cicadas perched for the mating dance. We looked around — most of the other trees were also completely infested by this population explosion.
Soon insects were dropping at our feet. We knelt to inspect these strange creatures: orange beady eyes, giant wings. Fierce determination.
We found ourselves on the lot of a science-fiction movie: Night of the Living Dead meets Them.
But instead of being frightened, Ryan was fascinated. “They’re everywhere,” she laughed.
Yep. They’re back, big time. And these pre-teen bugs are ready to boogie. Anybody seen my earplugs?
–Learn more and check out a video here.
By Lyle Estill
Last Saturday I rousted my two teenage sons early so that we could attend the opening day of the new Pittsboro Farmer’s Market. As we sped toward Chatham Mills I explained how important it was that we do our part for the foodshed by playing the role of “eaters.”
They were not impressed. Nor were they surprised that we were one week early, and that there was no new Farmer’s Market to attend. [It opens this Saturday April 16.]
Undaunted, I pushed on to Carrboro–to a market I have never attended. It was an extreme use of fuel–much further than I would ever normally drive for such a task– but I was in the mood to seize the day.
My first booth in Carrboro was Big Spoon. They had a selection of homemade nut butters that took me back to last fall, when a bunch of us shelled, roasted, and pureed peanuts grown at Piedmont Biofarm. Apparently they bottle up their wares at Ninth St. Bakery when baked goods are not coming off the line.
I bought a jar of peanut cashew–cashew nuts being one thing I miss horribly on my hundred-mile diet. What can I say? I was at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. I was in a weird mood.
We made the rounds, loaded up on some chicken from Castle Rock Gardens–whom we recognized as a Slow Money participant--and we bought a bunch of bedding plants to force our own hand in the garden.
When we arrived home I cracked the Big Spoon for a sample on hot toast. Arlo loaded up a banana (his diet is not quite local yet–although I did point out that our bananas would be ready in the fall). Zafer vanished with just the jar and a spoon.
That was the last I saw of it. I fished the empty jar out of the recycle bin for Tami to photograph.
I thought it made a bold statement about the quality of the product. And I’m delighted to have Big Spoon doing their thing in Durham.
By Dee Reid
My spring garden started sprouting early this year. Even before my sugar-snaps germinated in late February, something unexpected sprung up in the pea patch. Looked like squash seedlings, but that couldn’t be, since my zucchinis and summer squash got wiped out by the bugs and worms last year, and the year before, come to think of it.
A few days after I disposed of the new squash look-alikes, the same sturdy little boogers started peeping up in the arugula bed. Then amidst the chard and red-leaf lettuce. Dang. Who invited these unexpected visitors anyway?
No problem, I kept snatching the volunteer seedlings up and tossing them away like weeds. But they kept on poking their perky little heads through the soil.
Soon the strangers were showing up in the bed I had prepared for tomatoes, but hadn’t even planted yet. What the heck?
Then I remembered. Last fall, I threw several rotting Halloween pumpkins into my compost bin. They bio-degraded very nicely, thank you very much, and I smugly dumped the most excellent results on all of my garden beds.
Now I’ve got pumpkin bumpkins sprouting all over the place. File this in the department of unintended consequences, next to the humility lessons.
Hmm, maybe next year I should save some zukes, instead of eating every last scrap, to throw in my compost pile . It may be the only way I’ll ever get a decent squash crop.
Just another reminder that no matter how efficient and earnest we are in the garden, we’re not always really in charge after all.
By Dee Reid
When I moved from Washington DC to Chatham County in 1978 there was plenty of culture shock. But the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of all was to find that nearly everyone grew their own food. I mean everyone.
Chatham is an agricultural county and three decades ago it was even more so. That was before so many mid-size family farms went out of business thanks to ‘”get big or get out” federal farm policies. Back then the farmers all had big vegetable gardens, even though their main commodities — chickens, turkeys, beef, eggs and milk — were shipped out of the county to be processed, sold and consumed elsewhere.
Chatham had no farmer’s markets then and the Carrboro Market was just getting underway. No whole food stores or cooperative groceries either. You had to drive to Chapel Hill to find decent cheese and whole wheat bread, and you couldn’t find a ripe tomato or peach in the local supermarkets if your life depended on it, even at the height of the growing season.
But if you were not a farmer, there still was plenty of real, home-grown food if you knew where to look.
Perhaps that was because our teachers, police officers, feed and seed dealers, bankers, carpenters, nurses, doctors and lawyers were often the sons and daughters of farmers. They knew how and when to sow and harvest. Regardless of what your day job was, you had a gigantic garden out back and you grew more than you could possibly eat or put up.
And the “back to the land” crowd arrived in the 1960s and ’70s to grow their own food, as a way of becoming more self-reliant. Some of them were early pioneers of Chatham’s small-scale sustainable agriculture movement.
Long before the word locavore had entered our lexicon, my Chatham neighbors and I were gorging on fresh local produce.
This means growing food was a primary topic of conversation. Heaven help you if you launched immediately into an inquiry about the latest gossip without first asking about one’s garden. Never mind, “How’s the family?” At this time of year, the big question always was, “Got yer peas in yet?”
It was a contest of sorts, a race against one’s neighbors, and, more importantly, a race against Winter. Around here, peas can go in the ground directly from seed in February, just about the time you’re completely fed up with the cold. For most folks, planting peas was the first official sign that winter would soon be over. Finally.
You can get your garden bed good and ready in January. Once you get a five-day snap of spring weather, you can press your pea seeds directly into the soil and expect them to germinate within a week. Getting your peas in early is what gets you through the rest of the winter doldrums.
So that’s exactly what I did this week-end. Got my sugar-snap peas in the ground and officially opened my backyard gardening season once again.
First I consulted Debbie and Doug’s Piedmont Planting and Harvesting Guide to make sure I wasn’t acting prematurely.
They advise that trellis peas, like my sugar snaps, can be stuck in the soil anytime after Feb. 15 (and dwarf peas even earlier). If the soil hasn’t warmed up yet, just cover it with plastic until the seeds germinate.
Once the peas germinate, it hardly matters how cold it gets (and yes, we know it will probably freeze again before spring really arrives for good). Not to worry; peas love a good chill.
Same goes for arugula, something we never heard of thirty years ago. Doug and Debbie advise that you can plant argula seeds directly in the soil anytime after Feb. 15. Once they germinate, they too love the cold.
“Yep, got my peas in, and my arugula,” I can say now, with pride. “But I sure do wish it would rain.”